Standing in my kitchen, aged 26, I never thought I’d hear my mum say, "He’s dead," in response to me asking how my dad was. But dead he was, and therein the chapter titled, “Eager to please daddy’s girl” was closed, as the “I’M FINE” book began in haste.
I was made, very literally, in the image of my Egyptian father – I look like him, with my olive skin and thick hair, and I’ve also inherited his introverted, slightly awkward manner. Losing him felt like losing a part of myself. As my mum said to him when he tried to buy her a parting gift, when he knew he was dying: “I don’t need one, I have Lucy to remember you by.”
I was in Australia when I learned my dad had terminal lung cancer, and returned to the UK as a result. He died months later. I lost my confidence, nestled into my old friend anxiety and descended into a depression that lingered for years.
Those who’ve experienced grief know its messiness. Sadness mixed with anger and resentment, with a sprinkling of anxiety reminding you not to get too close to anyone lest they die.
But when The Bereavement Trust explains that grief is “immensely complex", they're spot on. Because sometimes AMAZING things happen after a loss, too.
After she miscarried, blogger Jane McCarthy quit the job she hated and upped sticks to the countryside, where she says she is infinitely happier. “Losing our baby made us realise nothing’s guaranteed,” she says. “Rather than talking about changing things, we just did it.”
My inheritance from my dad changed my life. Although I don’t live free from all financial burden, I bought a flat in London, mortgage-free, and was able to quit my job to travel. For almost three years my partner and I country-hopped, coming home only to get married (something I didn’t need to save up for). When I decided to have a baby, I didn’t worry what self-employed maternity leave looked like. And, when I left London, I was able to upgrade my small flat for a much bigger house in Brighton.
I don’t say this to brag, although why shouldn’t I? When friends remind me how “lucky” I am to be in such a privileged position, I agree, but it came with VIP membership to the Dead Dads Club, and there’s no fee I’d pay to be part of that group.
The worst happened, but the best stuff has been happening ever since
When I hear friends bemoan the fact they’ll never get on the property ladder I’m hit with a huge sense of relief that I did it so easily. And I know that’s what my dad would’ve wanted for me; as someone who left Egypt to travel the world, moved to London and started a career, he was the one who encouraged my impulsive side. When I called him in tears because my boss was bullying me, he told me to “just quit”.
Becky Gauder's boyfriend Paul died last year. "My friend told me at the beginning that the acceptance that life is so fragile can be really freeing. It took me a long time to understand what that really meant."
I can relate to this. Although I lost confidence after his death, I also gained a fearlessness I hadn’t expected. Friendships that didn’t serve me were brought into sharp focus and the willingness to “just try” has been the making of my career.
I’d always wanted to become a journalist, so when I found myself temping in the same building as Lonely Planet I took my chance and emailed them, instead of second guessing myself as I would have done before. Grief teaches you more than just the clichés: Yes, life is short, but it’s also easier when you have a monetary safety blanket and less to lose.
Actor and mindset coach Holly Matthews started her Happy Me Project months after her husband died, aged 32, and credits his death with how empathic her daughters are now. Her best advice for dealing with grief? "Keep walking through it, and you'll soon see the happiness grow bigger than the grief itself."
Does that mean she is grateful for her premature widowhood? Of course not.
Being a member of “the club”, as Griefcast podcast host Cariad Lloyd describes it, comes with certain benefits. I embrace dark humour without fear of offence. And, when I hear somebody has just lost someone they love, I know to send a card – but skip the flowers in favour of sending food. I’m not scared by other people’s grief now.
Almost 10 years later, there are times my grief is so raw, it floors me. I don't always remember my dad's birthday, but if I hear an Egyptian accent I get a lump in my throat. Sometimes, the loneliness and decision fatigue that comes with self-employment brings me to my knees – I know my dad would have had great advice. He always did.
A friend referred to grief recently as a “superpower” and I think she’s right. The worst happened, but the best stuff has been happening ever since.